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Why do low intelligence, closeness and failure make you hate “strangers”? (Part II)

Why do low intelligence, closeness and failure make you hate "strangers"? (Part I)
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Photo: Rodney Smith, John Hinch in a Taxi, London, England, 1987


Indigenous people and immigrants in France, Germany, the United States, Tutsis and Hutus in Rwanda, pastoralists and farmers in Nigeria, Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, Rohingya and Burmese in Myanmar …

Conflicts between “ours” and “strangers” accompany humanity from ancient times to the present day. However, hostility towards “outsiders” is not only a social or cultural marker. Scientists believe that it correlates with difficulties in the logical analysis of reality, not too developed cognitive and intellectual abilities.


Read Part I


The hunch that intellectual abilities and attitudes towards others are somehow connected, originated in the post-war years from the outstanding sociologist and philosopher Theodor Adorno. He found that the more ethnocentric people are, the less intellectual potential they have. Initially, when examining intergroup hostility, low intelligence and prejudice were derived from the same source – poor education and low cultural level.

That is, a person with a good university education, in theory, should be less inclined to show hostility towards “outsiders”. However, new methods of statistical data processing made it possible to neutralize the mutual influence of some factors on others, leaving education and socio-economic situation outside the brackets. As a result, scientific evidence from the past 20 years has linked cognitive ability and bias directly.

We found this out by testing schoolchildren who were solving Jean Piaget’s problem of preserving discrete and continuous physical quantities. Simply put, children needed to recognize a rather simple phenomenon – to understand that when pouring water from a short and wide glass into a narrow and long volume of water, it remains the same. The ability to solve such logically uncomplicated problems is an indispensable condition for rational activity.

So, the worse things were with the children with rational thinking, the worse they treated “strangers”. In particular, they showed a great tendency towards racial prejudice. And education and social status does not affect this in any way.

Let’s take two people, one of whom graduated from Harvard and runs a ministry, and the other is only 8 classes and works as a loader. They may have the same thinking skills, which have nothing to do with education and position in society. Their bias against “others” will be immeasurably greater compared to people with higher cognitive abilities.




The fact that xenophobia comes as a bonus to the underdevelopment of abstract thinking, scientists have established quite accurately. But why this is so, there is no definite solution yet. The most commonly accepted explanation comes from a group of British-Canadian scientists specializing in such research. In their opinion, the lower the cognitive abilities, the more simplified, “black and white” picture of the world a person gravitates to.

Such people find it very difficult to get an idea of ​​the complex, non-linear and multi-layered reality. The quality of their thinking is such that it can only work with a world in which the degree of predictability and orderliness is quite high. Anything that disrupts this perception of the world causes cognitive discomfort and is perceived as a threat.

“Blooming complexity” (the term of the historian and philosopher Konstantin Leontiev) contradicts the extremely simplified, “black and white” aesthetics of life. Therefore, people who speak a different language, profess a different religion, have excellent skin color – all of them are perceived by “flat thinking” as dangerous outsiders. In the same way, any change and innovation is perceived – novelty causes anxiety in such people, which they try to relieve with the help of aggression.

Thus, the lower the cognitive abilities, the more anxiety and aggressiveness will be in relation to those “dissimilar” who violate the “orderliness” of the surrounding world. Such people will always be focused on finding opportunities to prevent social problems, and not on finding resources for development (“uncertainty avoidance” according to Geert Hofstede).




The difference in intellectual abilities presupposes qualitatively different means of achieving the desired states. In this regard, it is worth mentioning the theory of focus of regulation, which was put forward by psychologists.

According to it, purposeful behavior is regulated by two different motivational systems – the promotion focus and the prevention focus. The first is associated with the experience of pleasure from the presence of positive outcomes and displeasure from their absence, and the second – with the experience of pleasure from the absence of losses and displeasure from their presence.

The “preventative” attitude says the “glass is half empty”, it heightens anxiety and blocks the perception of constructive possibilities. In terms of a “conservative” belief system, “others” threaten “traditional” values ​​and social order.

Everything “other” is perceived as hostile, from which one should get rid of. At some point, the fear of “others”, as a result of low intellectual abilities, may become a cultural norm in some societies. And this, in turn, makes the situation dead-end, contributing to an increased sense of threat. Society as a whole falls into the trap of focusing on preventing anxiety rather than seeking resources for development.




The greatest threat and greatest fear for any living being is the fear of death. The psychological factors that govern self-identification, in fact, give us a chance for immortality. The group is transcendental and transcends the existence of its members. Psychology professor Arie Kruglanski of the University of Maryland believes group identification prolongs individual existence.

He conducted research in many countries of the world, as a result, he proposed the theory of “cognitive shelter”. Kruglanski found that group identification increases when a person is unable to achieve success as an individual. Personal failure and low self-esteem create feelings of weakness and anxiety and the need to seek protection from the group.

The higher self-doubt and anxiety, the higher the likelihood that a person will become an adherent of extreme forms of patriotism and nationalism, religious or racial extremism. Uncertainty stimulates the search for “cognitive shelter” and group ideology, which gives simple and unambiguous answers: what is your place in the world, who are “they” and who are “we”? The moment you feel that you are under the protection of a strong and close-knit transcendental community, you can no longer worry about your personal failure.

Scientists have found that as soon as a person begins to feel successful, competent and independent, his ties with the group gradually weaken. Sometimes so that he may well leave it. As soon as a person becomes open to the world, tolerance, the ability to empathize and respect for others, regardless of group affiliation, return to him.

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